By Bob Mercer, American News Correspondent
12:34 AM EST, February 22, 2013
Editor's note: As part of the coverage of the 2013 legislative session, the American News will provide, on most days, a list of 10 pieces of information helpful to understanding what is — and sometimes isn’t — happening at the state Capitol during the session’s three-month run.
Q. Did the change in school-bus inspections pass?
A. The Department of Public Safety won final legislative approval Thursday to have more flexibility on inspectors. South Dakota has about 1,700 school buses that need annual inspections by the Highway Patrol and Motor Carrier Enforcement division. Rep. Dan Kaiser, R-Aberdeen, said the change allows for other inspectors to be certified. The vote was 66-1. Senate Bill 41 now heads to the governor.
Q. Did the Big Stone tax exemption go through?
A. The Senate finished the job Thursday, so a property-tax exemption already in law for the new environmental equipment at the coal-fired electricity plant will apply during the construction period, which could last three to four years and will be done in parts.
“One section may be operational after the first year,” Sen. Tim Begalka, R-Clear Lake, said. Senators gave final approval to House Bill 1153, voting 31-1 to send it to the governor. The upgrades are on a 30-year depreciation schedule and the exemptions would extend to the end of that period.
Q. How did Sen. Al Novstrup fare in front of his hometown folks during Aberdeen Day on Thursday?
A. Ouch . . . A bill to rewrite how perpetual care funds are administered for cemeteries was tabled. Then Novstrup, R-Aberdeen, saw Sen. Ried Holien, R-Watertown, significantly amend another perpetual-care measure so as to require a report to be filed with the secretary of state.
“He is working. He’s just not very effective,” Holien joked. As matters became confused, Novstrup stepped in to help sort them out — and it genuinely wasn’t a set-up.
Q. Did the State Veterans Home legislation get settled?
A. The House of Representatives voted 68-0 for final approval of Senate Bill 27, which seeks additional budget authority of $6.6 million from various sources. The original spending plan was adopted in 2011, but, Rep. Fred Romkema, R-Spearfish, said, federal officials have since decided modifications are needed, such as adding up to 10,000 square feet and other changes, including a bio-mass plant. That brings the total project to $41.2 million.
“This is a good deal for our state. This facility has been in our state since 1889,” Romkema said.
There will be 52 nursing beds and 48 living beds. Rep. Lance Carson, R-Mitchell, said the people currently living there will still have a place. Last stop is the desk of Gov. Dennis Daugaard to be signed into law.
Q. Is the Senate back at a full 35 members?
A. Not yet. Returning Thursday was Sen. Bill Van Gerpen, R-Tyndall, who missed the previous two days with illness. The desk to his left remains empty, as Sen. Shantel Krebs, R-Renner, has been out this week on a business trip.
Q. What happened to the rural-lawyer bill?
A. On Wednesday night, with the two senators gone, Sen. Mike Vehle, R-Mitchell, fell one “aye” short of the two-thirds majority needed to keep alive his incentive plan for lawyers to locate in rural counties. Because it was the crossover deadline when all bills must be passed or killed in their first chamber, Vehle couldn’t delay until Thursday.
Q. Who switched?
A. Vehle was one supporter short the first time. He gave notice to reconsider. Then he announced he had the votes to pass the bill. Indeed, he gained two supporters — Republicans Dan Lederman of Dakota Dunes and Jeff Monroe of Pierre — on the second vote. But he lost three others — Democrat Larry Lucas of Mission and Republicans Deb Peters of Hartford and Bruce Rampelberg of Rapid City — who previously voted for his bill, Senate Bill 218. In the end, that odd set of switching left two short and presumably done with the matter this year.
Q. Will judicial elections be allowed to become openly partisan?
A. The Senate voted 29-2 to eliminate what probably is an unconstitutional restraint of free speech. State law for a century has made it a crime for a political party to endorse or nominate a candidate for judicial office in South Dakota. The House previously approved House Bill 1072 and it now goes to the governor. The chief justice proposed the change after seeing a similar Montana law upended in federal court.
Q. Was that who we thought it was Thursday in the House gallery?
A. Indeed, former Gov. Walter Dale Miller and his wife, Pat, paid a visit to watch the afternoon debates.
“I think he’s over because he served in the greatest chamber for about 20 years. That would be the House,” House Speaker Brian Gosch, R-Rapid City, said.
Walt and Pat later headed over to the Senate to watch awhile.
Q. How’s Walt doing?
A. Now 87, he has a cane that slows his gait, but showed no trouble negotiating the tight, old-time wooden chairs that ring the galleries since long before he was a House member from 1967 through 1986. He was House speaker and majority leader at various times. He was elected lieutenant governor in 1986 as the running mate to Republican George S. Mickelson. He became governor upon the death of Gov. Mickelson in the 1993 state plane crash and served through 1994.
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